Water conservationists continue fighting Nestle permit decision

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation are asking a judge to force EGLE to make a decision on a contested case regarding a water withdrawal permit granted to Nestle. EGLE had previously dismissed the case.

CADILLAC — Don't just dismiss them.

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation is continuing the fight against an EGLE permit that would allow Nestle Waters North America to increase its water withdrawal from 250 gallons per minute to 400 gallons per minute at White Pine Springs near Evart.

After EGLE approved the permit in 2018, MCWC filed a contested case with the agency.

An administrative law judge sided with EGLE and Nestle, and sent the matter to EGLE Director Liesl Clark.

But in November 2020, Clark dismissed the case, saying EGLE didn't have jurisdiction and MCWC should have filed the case in circuit court.

Now MCWC has filed a petition in the circuit court for Ingham County. But they aren't asking the circuit court to overturn the permit granted to Nestle. They're asking the circuit court to force EGLE's director to make a decision instead of dismissing the case.

Peggy Case, president of MCWC, told the Cadillac News that the issue of jurisdiction had already been decided two years ago and that EGLE did have the legal right to decide what to do with the contested case.

A contested case is an administrative process where individuals can challenge agency decisions.

They tend to be cheaper than lawsuits.

Even so, MCWC's two-year contested case bill was about $200,000, Case said.

"They let us go through the whole process for two years and spend a fortune on that—$200,000 or so—and then at the very end instead of the director ruling, which she has the right to do herself, she kicked it down the road and said, 'Well, we don't think we had jurisdiction after all. We're changing our mind,'" Case said. "So they changed their own procedures halfway through the process."

MCWC is asking a circuit court judge to force EGLE to make a decision.

The end goal, however, remains to stop the Nestle permit and block the company from increasing water withdrawals for its Ice Mountain brand.

"We don't like to be dismissed. And we don't like the fact that that means that they're basically granting Nestle the permit," Case said.

But there are other reasons MCWC is pursuing this legal challenge.

"There's also the issue of public participation in these kinds of processes. If they can claim that we don't have the right to a contested case and to that process, they're saying that they can make permit decisions behind closed doors in the future," Case said. "And we have no way to participate. So it's a really undemocratic kind of decision."

A Nestle Waters North America spokesperson said on Friday that MCWC's legal challenge has no merit.

"Water is a renewable resource when managed responsibly, and sustainable water management is at the core of Nestleì Waters’ operations. We have always been and will continue to be a strong supporter of laws that protect the environment,  and we continue to be committed to ensuring the sustainability of Michigan’s natural resources," a company spokesperson said via an emailed statement. "We have confidence in the science behind our permit, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)’s thorough review, and the 18 years’ worth of environmental data collected near the site since beginning our operations in Michigan."

The company's spokesperson went on to say, "As such, we firmly believe this appeal has no merit and that EGLE’S decision to approve our permit application was appropriate. In its announcement dismissing the challenge to our permit, the EGLE referred to our operations in Osceola Township as having received “the most intensively monitored water withdrawals in the state,‘ and our permit as 'the most intensely scrutinized permit in the agency’s history.'"

Cadillac News